March 5, 2020
OLYMPIA–I've seen Democrats raise taxes several times during my many years in the Legislature. They'd increase spending to unsustainable levels, then, when the economy slowed and tax revenues fell, claim tax hikes were necessary to maintain important services. Incredibly, we're now seeing Democrats trying to increase taxes and expand the state operating budget like a balloon even when the state's coffers are stuffed with money.
When state government's first quarterly revenue forecast for 2020 was released Feb. 19, the news was good: Washington's chief economist predicts an additional $606 million in revenue during this current two-year budget cycle. Going back to last April when the 2019 Legislature adjourned, the state is expected to have $1.5 billion in extra revenue. In fact, this marks the 16th straight quarter (four years) that the new revenue forecast has predicted more growth than the previous forecast.
With such a long, positive streak of continued revenue growth, you'd think legislative Democrats would agree there's enough money on hand to address our state's budget needs, without more taxes. Sadly, you'd be wrong.
The Senate's Democrat majority released its supplemental operating budget plan Feb. 24. Despite Washington's rosy revenue situation, the Democrats' plan would add another $1.1 billion in spending for this two-year budget cycle. (So much for the idea that a supplemental budget is meant to make minor adjustments to the original two-year budget.) If this budget becomes law, state spending will grow 20 percent for this biennium, the highest jump in 30 years.
As Washington's revenue picture has continued to improve, my Republican colleagues and I have suggested that the Legislature should offer meaningful tax relief to the people. In fact, just before this year's session began in January, I offered a proposal (SB 6174) that would eliminate the requirement to buy a Discover Pass to drive into a Washington state park. However, the majority chose to not even give that bill a public hearing. Now that the Democrats' new budget is on the table, I can figure out why: they have almost no interest in lowering taxes or fees of any kind to Washingtonians.
It's ironic that the Senate Democrats' motto is "Putting People First." Judging by their thirst for more spending and newer and higher taxes to help pay for it, "Putting Government First" would be more accurate.
Since 2013, Washington has enjoyed average wage growth of about 40 percent. The problem is, state spending growth during this span has increased by 80 percent, twice the percentage of wage growth. The hardworking taxpayers simply can't afford to continue supporting so much spending, and at some point, the hot economy will cool off, resulting in a big drop in revenue. That spells big trouble for the state budget.
Many Democrats cite "corporate greed" when they justify higher taxes on companies. More and more, we're seeing examples of "government greed" whether it's Sound Transit trying to take more money from taxpayers in the Puget Sound area, or Democratic legislators refusing to craft responsible budgets that spend existing revenues wisely. The Democrats' insatiable need to spend your hard-earned tax money will come back to haunt our state. The only question is when.
––Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, represents the 9th Legislative District. He is Senate Republican leader.